How Common Are Workplace Relationships?
What Laws Regulate Workplace Relationships?
Texas, like most states, does not have laws addressing workplace relationships in the private sector. For government employees, the state constitution has been interpreted to implicitly create a “zone of privacy” on unwarranted governmental interference into individual autonomy, which requires the government to show any intrusion on an employee’s personal life and choices was reasonably warranted for the achievement of a compelling governmental objective that cannot be achieved by less intrusive, more reasonable means.
Personal autonomy is not boundless, however. For example, the Texas Supreme Court has determined that public employees do not have a privacy right to have an adulterous affair even when the behavior takes place away from work and within the employee’s theoretical zone of privacy. City of Sherman v. Henry, 928 S.W.2d 464 (1996).
What Issues May Arise with Workplace Relationships?
Some employers choose to establish non-fraternization policies and consensual relationship agreements. Non-fraternization policies prohibit social relationships between employees, although usually centering on those between supervisors and subordinates. Consensual relationship agreements are written attestations signed by coworkers in romantic relationships that acknowledge their relationship is consensual and agree that a breakup will have no adverse impact on job performance or outcomes.
Employers do not have an unfettered right to prohibit workplace relationships, though. Courts have held that a threat to terminate employment due to a workplace romance violates public policy and may form the basis for a wrongful discharge claim. Williams v. Joe Lowther Ins. Agency, Inc., 177 P.3d 1018 (Mont. 2008).
What Does an Employee Have to Show to Establish a Claim Related to a Workplace Relationship?
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Hostile Work Environment
Even a positive relationship can subject employers and employees to liability under various federal and state laws, and the Me Too movement has in part emphasized the dangers of such relationships, particularly between supervisors and direct reports, where the power imbalance can complicate, if not obliterate, consent.